Robbie’s Origin Story
By the time he joined On Deck, Robert (Robbie) Bent had experience with both massive failure and success.
After a brief stint in the world of private equity and hedge funds and a four-year tenure as a failed startup founder, Robbie was out of runway and looking for a new direction.
Now, just a few years later, Robbie is a renowned startup founder and health & wellness personality. His company, Othership, is inspiring thousands of people to live better, happier lives.
This is the story of how an impulsive move to a distant country and the decision to join On Deck both changed Robbie’s life and accelerated his passion project into a thriving business in under eight weeks.
Note: This is part of a series where we talk to On Deck Founders alumni about the companies they’re building and what it will take to propel them to the next level. Consider joining our incredible community of founders who have launched over 1000 companies worth over $9B. Apply here.
Hitting Rock Bottom
From a young age, Robbie had been wired to believe that happiness equaled professional and financial success. He did well in school and got praise for it from his strict parents.
In 2006, when he graduated college, he saw the smartest kids he knew going into finance so he did the same. Finance, Robbie believed, would be the most prestigious thing he could do, and the place where he could make the most money.
Little did he know that he was getting himself into a trap.
What Robbie would learn is that a job in finance comes with golden handcuffs. For two years, he worked at an investment bank and then got hired by a hedge fund. As time passed and his paycheck increased, his lifestyle costs increased too.
Soon enough, Robbie began to feel trapped. He didn't enjoy working at the hedge fund but couldn't leave. No other place would pay him enough to sustain the day-to-day life he'd grown accustomed to. To make matters worse, quitting his job and 'downsizing' were, in his mind, a failure —on a financial, professional, and personal level.
But then came the 2008 financial crisis. Shortly after, in Robbie's words, "the hedge fund imploded". He was left in place of immense uncertainty.
"At that moment, I looked at older people working in finance and realized that wasn't the life I wanted. I didn't want to spend my life working on something that I didn't really care about, where there's no real interaction with a customer, where you never feel joy, where there's no opportunity to create."
Robbie was at a crossroads. Left without a job, but still driven by a need to feel successful, he came up with a plan: he would do a startup.
After partnering with a technical co-founder, Robbie set out to build Roamly, a virtual SIM Card marketplace that allowed travelers to access multiple wireless carriers simultaneously when traveling internationally, a Google Fi before Google Fi existed.
At the young age of 24, Robbie grew Roamly from a seven-person founding team to 100 people over four years. He raised funds from friends and family and even put all of his own capital into the business. But despite all this early momentum, the business didn’t take off quite in the way he had hoped:
"We never mastered the product. We spent too much money and time building the technical infrastructure. By the time we were done two years of development, roaming prices had declined 90%. The business began to fail, so we started raising bridge loans to try and salvage it."
For two years, Robbie lived in terror of letting down his friends and family—the same people who had trusted Robbie enough to invest in the business. And Roamly did fail. All of Robbie's fears became a reality.
But then came the next step in his journey, one that would change everything.
From Passion to Business Opportunity
By late 2013, Robbie hit rock bottom. Roamly had failed and he was living in his parents' basement. After a lifetime of praise for his financial and professional success, Robbie felt like an abject failure. To make matters worse, he was struggling with a substance abuse problem with drugs and alcohol to deal with the stress.
"The only things that mattered to me, credibility and success, were gone. I looked around and saw all my friends were crushing it at their jobs as bankers and consultants. Meanwhile, I couldn't even afford to go out to dinner."
Robbie needed a change. He decided, together with one of the investors that helped fund Roamly, to move to Israel.
"It was a crazy experience. I don't speak Hebrew and I'm not Jewish. I just wanted a change."
In Israel, Robbie learned about meditation and did his first ten-day Vipassana retreat. He'd always known about meditation and had tried using Headspace and Calm for fifteen minutes a day, but this was something altogether different.
After meditating for 100 hours in the space of those ten days of the retreat, things started to change. Robbie became aware that his need for success came not from an inner drive, but from a lack of self-love.
Looking for even more insight, he began researching psychedelic medicines. He had his first experience with them in Israel, and realising their potential for healing, flew out to Peru with his best friend to try Ayahuasca.
"That changed my life. It brought up a lot of traumas from childhood and helped me process them. It brought up all the reasons why I was using drugs. I felt immense self love for the first time and it helped me quiet my mind. Since then, I've been sober."
When he returned home, his life began to change. He met his fiancé, who introduced him to the many health and wellness practices that would later become the core of his business, Othership. Together, Robbie and his fiancée moved to San Francisco, where Robbie joined the Ethereum ecosystem and then the Foundation itself.
"I went from a total lack of confidence in myself to all of a sudden working in one of the hottest ecosystems in tech. I was meeting all my tech heroes, and some of the best engineers and researchers in the world. I had made the decision not to be driven by money but by being surrounded by good, inspiring people. That was what crypto was like in those days."
Slowly, he began to rebuild his life. He went from rock bottom to full sobriety, a loving fiancé and career and financial success at a super rapid pace.
But Robbie hadn't forgotten about his transformational experience while living in Israel. Meditation, psychedelic medicines, and other wellness practices, he'd realized, were the key to living a good life; to be present, strong, and full to the brim with energy.
The Journey to On Deck
During the four years he spent at Ethereum, Robbie began to get obsessed with not only practicing meditation but teaching it to others as well. He ran meditation sessions in the mornings for his team or whenever he went to conferences.
But meditation, it turns out, has its limitations with onboarding.
Though he was helping himself, and his team, Robbie struggled to get more people interested in meditation. Meditation, he realized, had a very long feedback cycle—people could meditate frequently for an entire year and still find trouble committing to the practice long term
But Robbie wouldn't be dissuaded. Instead of quitting his efforts to help people, he began to host ice baths in his backyard every night for his friends. He also discovered breathwork, a wellness practice he realized came with many of the benefits of meditation but was more adaptable for the average person. It was the perfect onboarding experience
"What started as small gatherings with five or six of my friends in my backyard began to grow. Out of nowhere, I had a 200 person Whatsapp group. People were just dropping by my house randomly to come to do breathwork with me while in the ice bath."
Hosting that many people quickly became unmanageable. So Robbie decided it was time to bootstrap his garage with an ice baths, sauna and tea lounge. The community continued to grow, and soon they were doing nightly classes and activities, including saunas in the dark, where six people played drums while others shared their fears.
In short: Robbie used all the resilience training, mindfulness training, and health style training he'd been cultivating since his time in Israel, and put it in an environment that was fun, social and inspiring and for the first time he saw his community onboarded into a healthier and happier lifestyle at scale.
When the pandemic hit, the interest for these sessions did not wane.
Robbie had to stop hosting events and classes in person but soon began offering guided breathwork classes for free on Zoom. First, there were twenty people joining. Then, forty. Soon enough, he was reaching the 200-person mark regularly. That’s when he started getting requests for recordings of the sessions to be uploaded to YouTube.
With the move to virtual content, interest in Robbie's breathwork classes increased even further. When people started donating money as thanks, Robbie realized this passion project could be a real business. So he, together with a few co-founders, set out to work. In a few days, they bootstrapped an online course platform and uploaded 30 classes as a test of people's willingness to pay for their content.
The platform, and all its contents, were a success.
Now, Robbie had to decide: he could either continue working at Ethereum or quit his job and give his passion project all the attention it deserved.
He chose the latter. And to turn his passion into a business, Robbie chose to join On Deck.
Leveraging the On Deck Community to Skyrocket Learning
Robbie applied to ODF7 with a single idea in mind: to accelerate the process of turning his side project into a business. Years of meditating, breathwork, and other wellness practices had made him introspective, and aware of his limitations: he knew his expertise was in Deep Tech and community building, and not in anything D2C — he needed to learn as much as possible about this subject as quickly as possible without excessive spend.
"A friend of mine suggested I apply to On Deck, saying it was the best way to learn things fast at a reasonable price. I quickly realized that was a great opportunity, and that the On Deck community sounded like it was made up of a lot of people who would be interested in becoming customers of our product — it could be our testing ground."
When he accepted the offer to join ODF7 in November 2020, he had three goals already in mind: to learn how to grow the business, how to hire the right team, and how to raise funds for a product like the one he was building.
"From that point on, my learning skyrocketed."
The Importance of Community
By the time ODF7 started, Robbie's course platform had a few hundred customers, not nearly what he knew the potential of his business to be. He needed to learn the ins and out of running and growing a D2C brand, and do it fast.
So he set out to work.
First, he went through the entire On Deck Slack channel, reading up on the 200 people in his cohort. Whenever he saw someone who could help him in any way, he would message them and schedule a call. He offered fellows his own expertise on crypto and wellness and in exchange received all the guidance he was looking for and more.
"The benefit of starting early, going really hard and meeting as many people as possible is that, as the cohort goes on, whenever other people are talking your name comes up more and more often, and you increase your chances of serendipity."
In just a few days, Robbie was having 12 meetings a day, sometimes more. It was hard to keep up with — but his efforts paid off.
Through his meetings, Robbie soon learned the basics of D2C startup growth, how to interview customers, how to assess and grind different channels, what analytics to watch for, how to budget ad spend. He got feedback on his metrics and invites to speak on Clubhouse and podcasts, plus he got help on his first external hire to help him drive community on Instagram, and TikTok. He posted his breathwork recordings on the slack channel and received tons of support and feedback from fellows, and some of those very people joined his early customer base.
But it didn't stop there.
One of the fellows he met with initially offered to do a full Loom breakdown of his business' landing page, going through every specific point suggesting changes to maximize conversion. He even connected with a fellow who had ample experience with product management and decided to partner with her to build a mobile app for his business.
Another fellow, a Facebook ads manager expert, taught him about social media marketing — how to effectively run Facebook ads campaigns, and what types of analytics to use. Other fellows offered feedback on his financial structure.
"Whenever I had a question I would post it on the ODF Slack channel and immediately get a response."
The more he engaged with the ODF community, the more his learning accelerated. The more he gave to other fellows, in the form of advice, or running breathwork sessions for the community, the more he received in return.
In the 8 weeks the cohort lasted, Robbie went from 200 customers to 1000, reached his goal of $10,000 in monthly recurring revenue, and received commitments for an Angel round — all born from the effort he put into ODF7.
In just eight weeks, put simply, Robbie went from having a passion project to becoming the founder of Othership, a thriving online and offline health & wellness company.
Joining ODF7 was only the first step on Robbie's journey to share all his learnings about health and wellness with the rest of the world, and do it in a fun, interactive, and engaging way. When we sat down to chat with him, his eyes were set on the future.
"ODF created a powerful flywheel for me and my business. Now my mission, and what I want Othership to be, is extremely clear."
He envisions a life transformation engine around creating healthy experiences that inspire people to be healthier and happier together. He wants Othership to be about just that: inspiration. Not about the prescriptive, boring instructions that he feels so many other health and wellness startups preach. He sees a future with 50 spaces nationwide, a mobile app for daily mindfulness and a digital community where you can meet new friends and grow together all centered around emerging modalities like thermal training, breathwork and psychedelic medicines.
Community, Robbie argues, is the key to Othership's future. He learned that lesson firsthand during his time at ODF7. After his experience as part of the cohort, he decided to draw inspiration from how On Deck created a community for its fellows.
Together with his co-founders, including the product manager he met at ODF7, they set out to build an app that would enable a digital community where users from all over the world could share in their experiences doing breathwork, and then meet up IRL.
The team at Othership will then take that information and use it to decide where to build their physical spaces, where users will find everything from massive saunas with “night club” style sound systems for live classes, to indoor fire pits for connection, to ice baths and tonic bars. This would, in turn, create a flywheel for the business to continue its growth.
Robbie left ODF7 with a member base of 1,000 people. Now, his goal is to open Othership's flagship physical location, in October of 2021. Recently, through the On Deck Runway Fund, Robbie closed $750K in pre-seed funding from Vine Ventures and other investors to transform Othership from it's current iteration as an online community into a mobile app.
"I want to open the space and show North America what Othership is. I want to create the first real social experience that leads to emotional connection in a health way.. The ice baths, the sauna, the breathwork... I know it works. I've seen it blow people's minds."
For him, Othership's potential is unlimited. Armed with a great team ranging from product managers to designers, hospitality experts, world leading facilitators and a fantastic product, Robbie is ready to take on the world and enter a new stage in his life.
Robbie's journey from unhappy banker to co-founder of a revolutionary wellness startup was a rocky one, full of ups and downs. But in the end, Robbie managed to find a life he loves, and a passion he can pursue and scale to reach unknown heights.